‘Working at Westonbirt Arboretum has been a life-changing experience’: Meet the trainee arborist at Westonbirt Arboretum

Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum is a charity which helps support the care of Westonbirt Arboretum, as well as offering paid placements for students.

By Annabel Lammas  |  Published
The charity Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum has 37,000 members. Image  Paul Groom.
The charity Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum has 37,000 members. Image © Paul Groom.

Westonbirt Arboretum is home to a world-class tree collection which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. And the charity Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum, along with its 37,000 members, supports the care of this collection, its beautiful spring florals and spectacular autumn colours.

However, membership with the charity supports more than just trees, as part of the charity is offering paid student placements. These placements aim to further the careers of young and upcoming arborists, teaching them new skills and giving them vital work experience in an internationally important collection.

SoGlos spoke to 2020/21 trainee arborist Gabriel Holmes, who shared a glimpse into what it’s really like to be a trainee at the arboretum and how his experience has aided his future plans – helping inspire future apprentices to become involved with the beautiful attraction.

The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum said: ‘If you’d like to support our student placements and help future arborists gain skills with our highly experienced Tree Team become a Friend from £40 a year and receive many extra benefits for you to enjoy too.

‘Helping our community achieve their potential is an important part of what we do as a charity. Thanks to over 37,000 members we’re able to care for Westonbirt Arboretum, support education and develop participation programmes to connect people with trees.’

About the expert – Gabriel Holmes

Gabriel Holmes is a trainee arborist who took part in a placement with Westonbirt’s Tree Team that was funded by the charity Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum. He completed his placement this summer 2021 and will continue his fourth year at university where he intends to continue studying forestry beyond his final year, by either completing a masters degree or a graduate scheme in forestry.

What does a typical day for a trainee arborist at Westonbirt Arboretum look like?

First of all, it starts with the delegation of tasks from the Tree Team supervisor that allocates tasks for everyone. From there, the team will head out to the tractor shed and unlock all the doors and start to gather up equipment needed for the day. There are many jobs and no day looks the same.

For instance, if the task was clearing up a fallen tree, there would be two to three people working it. The woodchipper would need to be attached to the caron as well as the mules packed with rakes and chainsaws.

After a quick break, the task is continued and of course, as it is an educational placement, questions can be asked throughout the day and will be explained so when completing a job, you know why the task is being completed rather than blindly doing as you are told.

What was your favourite part about the placement at Westonbirt Arboretum?

I enjoyed every part of the placement, however felling the trees and creating fires to burn the waste at the site may have been a few of my favourite moments – especially on a cold winter’s morning.

How did the placement being funded by The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum make a difference to you?

It would have been highly difficult to run a car and rent accommodation based on my student loan, as it is highly reduced during placement. Without this funding I wouldn’t have been able to access the arboretum and therefore would have missed out on gaining invaluable skills.

What drew you to wanting to be an arborist at Westonbirt Arboretum?

I really enjoy working outside and being surrounded by nature. My capabilities are far stronger in this area of work than it would be elsewhere, and I feel far more passionate about this kind of work than any other job – which again motivates me further to succeed in this field.

What did you enjoy the most during your placement at Westonbirt Arboretum?

I generally enjoyed learning new skills and methods of practice and I appreciate that they can make your life a lot easier in the world of work.

The entire Tree Team all taught me valuable skills which, even though I struggled sometimes, I persisted with it as I was eager to get it right. Learning different chainsaw cuts and how to use them effectively with different trees amazed me.

I learnt plenty of transferable skills such as leadership, teamwork, organisation, self-efficiency and using my initiative more often, being at Westonbirt has given me the help I need. I really enjoyed the whole experience.

What is your favourite part of Westonbirt arboretum?

The Old Arboretum is my favourite part of the arboretum as it has so much history and I found that it was more compact with trees and shrubs than Silk Wood. This led to the idea that it was more mysterious and had more to offer, and it is home to the masters oak – a very large pedunculate oak tree.

Westonbirt Arboretum has 15,000 trees. What is your favourite?

Purple Beech is my favourite tree in the arboretum as I like its smooth bark and it being purple, which is my favourite colour!

What is next for you Gabriel?

Working at the arboretum has been a life-changing experience for myself as I have always wanted to work in a place such as Westonbirt and it really has given my life direction, as it has solidified my ideas of where I want to take my career after university.

All of these skills will be invaluable as I continue the fourth year of my degree, and I intend to continue studying forestry beyond my final year at university. This will also help me decide whether to do a masters or a graduate scheme in forestry.

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